Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) at Buffalo Bills (9-3)
These two teams are almost identical in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, with the Steelers ranking 5th at +2.37% and the Bills ranking 6th at +2.24%, but they do it in very different ways. The Steelers dominate on defense, ranking 2nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.72%, but their offense struggles, ranking 28th in first down rate over expected at -2.35%, while the Bills have a dominant offense, which ranks 2nd in first down rate over expected at +4.36%, but a defense that ranks just 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.11%. The Bills should be the better bet going forward though, purely because offensive performance is much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance.
It’s much more likely the Bills will have a strong defensive performance to complement their dominant offense than it is that the Steelers will have a strong offensive performance to complement their dominant defense and it’s also more likely that the Steelers’ defense will disappoint than the Bills’ offense disappointing, especially since the injuries are starting to pile up on Pittsburgh’s defense, with starting edge defender Bud Dupree, starting linebacker Robert Spillane, and starting cornerback Joe Haden all out. The Bills, meanwhile, are relatively healthy, especially on defense with top linebacker Matt Milano returning last week, a defense that in general has underperformed it’s talent level and could easily be better going forward because of that.
Given that, I had this game circled last week when the Bills were 2.5-point home underdogs on the early line, but the Bills’ big win against the 49ers and the Steelers’ loss to Washington shifted this line to Buffalo -1.5. That isn’t a massive swing, especially since it’s within the field goals (-3 and +3), but my calculated line is just Buffalo -2, so we’re not getting any real line value with the Bills. The most likely outcome is the Bills winning this game by a field goal, so they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, but there’s not enough here to be confident in them.
Buffalo Bills 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 20
Pick against the spread: Buffalo -1.5